Thursday, March 15, 2018

Walking Out and Talking It Out

Okay, so I know I said I wasn't going to post for a couple of weeks, but this is a) super timely and b) not actually book related, so, you know, here it is. I'll be back in a couple of weeks though. It's like the days when I have a substitute, but I'm at a meeting in the building, and kids freak out if they see me, so I tell them, "I'm not really here."  

It was second period on March 14th, around 9:40 in the morning. I was trying to keep students engaged in my reading class by having them generate questions they had about the school walkouts planned nationwide, then reading a variety of articles to see if they could find their answers.

“It’s stuuuupid,” snarled a young man named Connor*. Three others started to shout him down. Rather miraculously, they all let me shush them and set some parameters.

“We can talk about this. We can have different opinions about it, and we can explain why we think what we do. But we’re not going to call names or be rude to each other. You are all entitled to your own opinion, but I want to be sure you’ve gathered some information and done some thinking first.”

“Can I talk first?” asked Connor. Knowing as I did that his point of view was furthest from mine, I figured it would be diplomatic to let him say his piece. 

“Okay, but can you rephrase how you started that?”

He nodded seriously and said, “Okay. I disagree with the walk-out,” (pointed look at me to be sure I’d clocked his more academic language) “because I don’t think it is really going to change anything. I think a lot of kids are walking out just to get out of class. And the second amendment says we can have guns.”

Other hands shot up, and a quick side debate settled who would get to speak in what order. Most of the kids with strong opinions supported the walk-out, and were able to explain why. Honoring the dead. Ending school shootings. Nobody needs army-style weapons in their home. Better background checks. When Connor argued that we already have background checks, they told him that there are “black market” deals and other situations where that doesn’t apply. “Can you buy guns online?” they asked. I could tell they were a little iffy on their rebuttal, and suggested they do some research to find out what the deal is with background checks.

I also pointed out the fact that in the list of links I’d provided them with, there was one article about an armed teacher who’d been able to keep a student from shooting up the school, and another about the teacher who’d just yesterday accidentally discharged his weapon at school. Connor started spluttering again. “What kind of idiot…” he began, and I directed him to the article itself.  Read it and find out for yourself what happened; don’t make assumptions based on your knee jerk reactions, and don’t rely on someone else—like your teacher who would quit before she’d carry a gun to school-- to fill you in on the details.

He read. The others read. Some were reading about the civil rights of students, and some were reading about different school districts’ varying responses to the planned walk-out. Another boy put his head together with Connor to pore over the article about the accidental gunshot during a gun safety demonstration.

Connor started telling his partner what he thought. “See, it’s not the guns, it’s the people, and it’s gun safety. So what we should do is you should still be able to buy guns and everything, but you should have to go get re-certified every year.”  He noticed me listening, and started addressing me too. “And, like your brain isn’t fully developed until you’re 25, right?” I concurred, maybe a bit too enthusiastically.  “So you should be able to go huntin’ and stuff before then, but you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun on your own before then. But if you’re like in the military or police of something, you wouldn’t have to get tested as often, because you’d be really well trained. But you should still get tested every five or ten years, because sometimes people’s brains start to get messed up, or maybe you’ve forgotten some stuff.”

I was nodding at him as he thought out loud.  “Can I tell them what I think now?” he asked.  I pulled the class back together and told them that after doing some more reading and thinking, Connor had an idea to share. There was some eye rolling from the kids who’d been arguing with him earlier, but I gave them that teacher eye, and they let him talk.

He didn’t get that far before Kayla*, a girl who matches Connor in her eagerness to share her opinions on everything, interrupted him. “See, you actually agree with us! Because I know people like to hunt and stuff, and I’m not saying they should lose their guns. I just don’t want people to keep getting killed.”

Connor nodded. “They just need to get better about being safe with their guns. I think if they had to go in every year and get a complete check and safety test, it would really help.”

Kayla countered with, “Well, I still think they don’t need assault weapons, but basically, yeah, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying.”

I teach kids who struggle academically. Yet they were able to not only explain their point of view, they were able to listen to someone with a different take on things, to assimilate new information, and to find common ground. Connor was one of four students who stayed in my class during the walk-out, because he felt the focus was still on restricting gun access, not improving gun safety. Kayla and the other kids who’d been arguing with him walked out. But they did so with a far greater measure of respect that I would have imagined when they came into class all fired up. It was almost like they could believe that someone could disagree with you yet still have decent values.

KIDS THESE DAYS. They just might save us all.

*Names have been changed.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Leave of Absence


I haven't posted in over a week, and I think I'm just going to go ahead and make it official--I will be taking another two weeks away from blogging. I'll see you again during my spring break, the last week of March.

For now, I'm leaving you with this image Victoria Jamieson created.  See here for more information about how the kidlit community is getting involved in the #NeverAgain movement.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February in Review

My Reading

# of books read: 10.

Best(s): Lots of four star books this month, but no five stars. I continued some great series with Thunderhead, vol. 4 and 5 of Princeless, and The True Queen. I finally read American Street. I read a random thriller that totally got my adrenaline running, The Killer in Me. I wrapped up the Cybils judging reads with Scythe, which won, and The Hearts We Sold, which was a strong contender.

Challenges progress: 7 books qualified for Library Love. 8 qualified for Beat the BackList. None qualified for my personal challenge to read a sports novel and a horror novel this grading period, and I only have 3 more weeks.

Bookish Events and Happenings

February was huge for bookish events and happenings.  On World Read Aloud Day at the beginning of the month, each of my five classes Skyped with a different author. Huge thanks to Donna Gephart, Denis Markell, Karen Romano Young, Mark Maciejewski , and Darcy Rosenblatt for spending time with us!

Over the next two weeks, we finalized and wrote up our choice for the YA Speculative Fiction category of Cybils. The day after winners were announced, I got to go to Powell's Books and hear Neal Shusterman speak. That was very fun, as I documented here and here.

On the Blog

11 posts overall, but two were just screen shots and one was a link to a guest post.

I started the month with my annual link-up to Modern Mrs. Darcy. Every year she asks us what is saving our lives in the dreariest part of winter, and every year I get more views on that post than any other. Due in part to that, I passed 50,000 views overall on my blog. I'm pretty sure only 40,000 of those are my own. (Kidding, although it seems that I periodically have to remind Blogger that I don't want to count my own page views.) I had fun blogging about the author event with Neal Shusterman, and the TTT posts, about series I might quit and long-term residents of my TBR, got some good conversations started. 


We finally got some snow in western Oregon this month. We had two days off and a late start last week, which is just enough time to really settle in and enjoy it without having to worry about going late in the summer. I made homemade caramel and read and napped. 

I also tossed my pebble into the Twitter ocean and posted an "#ArmMeWith" tweet like some I'd seen floating around after the idea was suggested that giving teachers guns was a reasonable response to gun violence. Here's a small suggestion: if you are ever going to hand-write a sign and post it online, take the time to make it neat and tidy, because BOY HOWDY have I been roasted for my sloppy writing. If I'd known this would be my only tweet ever to get more than 3 likes and retweets, I would have slowed down and made it more legible. My other suggestion is to be slim and pretty (but probably not TOO pretty) because apparently my weight made it hard for some people to understand my point. Despite all this, I see three positives:

  1. I am now an official member of the 21st century, having been insulted by strangers online. Woot!
  2. Let's say that eight people wrote a total of twenty mean tweets. On the other hand, over 9.000 people "liked" my tweet, and over 2,000 retweeted it. 
  3. A few people took offense on my behalf, and some of them have SENT MY CLASSROOM BOOKS. So the laugh's on you, trolly little trolls. My kids now have Strong is the New Pretty, a new copy of Wonder, and a history of Rap at their fingertips.

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!

Friday, February 23, 2018

So, This Happened...

And I got a bunch of trolls making fun of my handwriting and my weight. And let's be honest, if I'd realized anyone besides two or three people were going to see this, I would have written it more neatly and not included my face in the picture. But also--nothing will convince me of Russian bots and NRA stooges faster than having random strangers notice my little tweet and launch personal attacks. So I made them a present:

I'm SURE that now they will focus on the content instead of the messenger.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Behind the Screen: A Book Blogger's Tag

I saw this on It Starts at Midnight, and Shannon stole found it on Du Livre, so it seems we have Amber Elise to thank. 

When did you start blogging and what was your first review? 

I started blogging on June 28, 2015, with an introduction post. My first actual review post was of a beloved duology from my childhood, Kate Seredy's The Good Master and The Singing Tree.  I had delusions of being organized enough to run a weekly feature in which I'd review older books I'd loved. I didn't last the summer.
Who/what inspired you to start blogging?
I had been reading blogs for awhile--starting with The Pioneer Woman in about 2009, then discovered adoption blogs in 2011, then eventually found a few book blogs. I kept adding long, enthusiastic comments, and I realized maybe I needed my own venue instead.  I'd done some minor blogging before, first when we lived overseas for a year, and then around our adoption process and experiences. Those were more like writing in a journal that just happened to be online, but it helped me remember how much I like writing, so a book blog seemed like a good fit.

What is a blog-related goal that you have?

Um, to keep blogging? I don't really have specific goals in mind, which may be why my "growth" in terms of readership and interaction has been limited. This is an important hobby to me, but it's still just a hobby, coming in below family, work, and reading in terms of things I want to be spending my time and energy on. 

What is one thing you wish someone told you about blogging? 
Hm. I worked out a few important things pretty easily--that participating in memes is a good way to make connections, that you have to put time into reading and commenting on other blogs to maintain your relationships with other bloggers, and that I don't have to do anything on my blog I don't want to do (in my case, no blog tours, no ARC pursuit, and very few reviews). I guess if I'd been more educated about platforms initially I might have tried Wordpress instead of Blogger, but I can't be bothered to switch over at this point. 

What was your biggest blog-related accomplishment? 

Anything I do that reaches beyond the boundaries of my blog makes me pretty excited. For example, posting on Nerdy Book Blog, which I've done a few times, or being part of Shannon's Shattering Stigmas event, or judging for Cybils, or guest posting on a blog that focuses on YA from an academic point of view. 

I also made Nicole of Feed Your Fiction Addiction clap her hands in the middle of a Starbucks recently, so there's that.

What types of posts do you enjoy writing? 
Definitely anything that is more of an essay or reflection that an actual review. Discussion posts, basically. Tags like this are fun too. I actually enjoy coming up with top ten lists, but the work of explaining and linking and finding graphics makes them not my very favorite.

Where do you usually blog? What does your setup look like? 
  1. I really like blogging at the public library. Something about the focus of a two hour time limit, a quiet space, and no other distractions really helps me focus.
  2. Alternatively, if I blog at the dining room table, it also feels a bit more official and can keep me on task a bit.
  3. But really, I do most of my blogging from the couch. Glamour shot of me right now, taken with the laptop camera:
What was your last 5-star read? 
The Steel Seraglio by Mike, Linda, and Louise Carey. (That'd be husband, wife, and daughter.) I read it Jan. 21 for the reading retreat I went on. I loved its mix of fantasy and historical fiction and its creative narration style.

What was your last 1-star read? 
I don't really have one star reads. The last book I stopped reading because I didn't like it (as opposed to I got distracted or just didn't feel it was good for me, as opposed to being A Bad Book) was Eragon, way before I started blogging. The book sucked. It reads like the drivel of a teenaged D&D player, because it is. Come at me.
What are three words that make you pick up a book? 



complex characters (shades of grey, anti-hero, etc.)

What is your Hogwarts House? 

Fun fact: if you try to look up creative commons images of Hufflepuffs, instead you get a bunch of images of the Hufflepuff commons room, which is also quite nice.

What advice would you give to new bloggers? 

Monday, February 19, 2018

TTT: Series I Just Might Quit

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is: Books I’ve Decided I’m No Longer Interested In Reading

Something about that feels a bit too hostile to me, so instead I'm going to adapt it to "series I never got around to finishing" and ask for your input on which ones I should go back to, and which ones I can let go in good conscience. 

1. Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman 
Wendy read: 1/3
After seeing him speak and devoting two posts to the experience, I am feeling like I should go back and read the rest of this series. 

2. Grishaverse trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Wendy read: 1/3
I was not impressed with book one. But the Six of Crows duology, set in the same world, are among my all time favorites. So maybe I should try again?

3. Daughter of Smoke & Bone series by Laini Taylor
Wendy read: 2/3.5
I liked the first book. I loved the second book. I got bored partway through the third book and quit. Then I read the companion novella and was charmed. Plus, I adored Strange the Dreamer. Maybe I just needed a break before continuing?

4. Chief Inspector Armande Gamache series by Louise Penny
Wendy read:  5/12 and counting
I do like mystery series. But this one just kind of lost its luster.

5. Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
Wendy read: 1/3
I just got around to reading the first book in this series in December. I liked it. I didn't love it. Keep going or nah?

6. Fly By Night series by Frances Hardinge
Wendy read 1/2
I don't remember much about the first book, which is why I haven't picked up the next one. But I know I liked it. And I know Hardinge has a pretty good reputation, even though I haven't read any of her other works either.

7. Tales Dark and Grimm series by Adam Gidwitz
Wendy read: 2/3
This is what happens when I start reading a series before it's done. I read the first two, then by the time the third one came out, I'd just...moved on. I have it in my classroom library. It would be easy enough to finish up the series. I just don't know how much of a priority it is.

8. Immortal Beloved series by Cate Tiernan
Wendy read: 2/3
Fun fact: I had no idea what this was when I saw it on my "series" shelf on Goodreads. But after reading my comments and the description, I was all, "Oh yeah, those were pretty fun!" Maybe I should wrap it up.

9. Easy Rawlins series by Walter Mosley
Wendy read: 10/14
Another detective series. I totally have a good reason for taking a long hiatus on this. The author ended a book with what appeared to be the death of the protagonist, then took six years before writing the next book. I just realized last month that there are MORE now.

10. Legend series by Marie Lu
Wendy read: 2/3+
It's maybe not a good sign that I thought I'd only read the first book in this series, but now see I went on to the second and didn't like it as much. 

Overall, I tend to read a lot of YA fantasy and adult mystery series, which definitely is reflected here. I'm also noticing this list is 70% female and 80% white, which makes me feel more like continuing with the last two on the list, as I believe in consciously reading authors of color (since clearly, I don't do it unconsciously). 

Are there any of these you think I should definitely get back to? Any I can take off my "maybe" list without guilt or regret?

An Evening With Neal Shusterman

I promised I'd get into more details about how the Shusterman event went, so here we go!

I arrived at Powell's around 6:30 for the 7:00 event, and who should be walking in just ahead of me but Mr. Shusterman and his--whoever it is that accompanies authors to these things. So he ended up holding the door for me, and yes, I grinned at him like a maniac.

They had their larger audience area set up, and four rows were already filled, so I got me a spot in the fifth row and figure out what books were available for my fellow Cybils judges. Sadly, there were no copies of Scythe to be had, but in addition to plenty of copies of Thunderhead, Powell's had a cart full of his other works, both new and used. I love that they do that, and I thought hard about getting Unwind and/or Challenger Deep, but since I already have both, I restrained myself. 

I got these beauties for my co-judges.

As a warm-up Sarah from Novel Novice came out and gave free posters to everyone who was in costume. There were about a half dozen young women in robes of various colors, which was pretty cool. I had actually considered wearing a shirt I have with a giant cowl neck, and had decided it might look like I was trying to be Scythe-y. I guess I should have just embraced it. Or maybe it's not cool for adult readers of YA to get into cosplay? Hm.

Then she ran a trivia contest. I could have answered every question, but was mindful of not being greedy or obnoxious. Still, when she asked how Rowan referred to himself in regards to his family, my hand shot up so I could say "lettuce" before she'd even given us the multiple choice options. The poster was a two sided one featuring the covers of each book on one side, so when there seemed to be widespread hesitation over the question about how many times of year the Scythes hold an enclave, I held up three fingers and explained that I would like to be able to show BOTH covers in my classroom. She let me take another poster with my answer.


Then it was time for the author to speak, and Sara's first question was a winner. She asked about his inspiration for the Arc of the Scythe series, and he told her that he has the official answer, which he believed until quite recently to be the truth, and that he has the real answer. So of course we were all agog to hear more.

He explained that he had written Unwind before Hunger Games came out--they were fairly simultaneous in publication. So he'd written this dystopia right as dystopia became a huge Thing in YA publishing, and he wondered what it would be like to create a Utopia. What would it look like, to have a world in which the problems really have been solved? What would the implications be? He realized that a world without illness or even death would need people to end lives intentionally, and that anyone who wanted such a job would have to be disqualified from ever having it. He was talking about how he thought of Scythes as people who would end lives with dignity and care, with respect and support, and I thought of the beautiful dance of the nurses disconnecting my mom's life support and preparing her for death. 

So, he went on, it was from this interesting thought experiment, borne from looking at what was going on in publishing, that he got the idea and started writing, and so he told people each time he was asked. Then sometime recently, instead of asking where he got the idea for Scythe, someone asked him what was going on in his life when he started writing Scythe.

He said he had to pass the question on down the panel he was sitting on, because it hit him hard to realize what the answer was. His mom had gotten ill, and then died. Peacefully, with her son and her husband holding her hand, after receiving tender palliative care from hospice until she was ready to go. And for all the pain of losing someone, he knew that this was perhaps the best way to go. And that is where Scythe REALLY came from.

Yes, I was crying by this point.  Unobtrusively, at least.

Utopia--or is it?


Later--I think during audience Q&A--someone asked about the origin story of the Skinjacker series. Everlost is the first Shusterman I ever read, and I liked it, but didn't go on from there. I've had several students get really into it though. He said he was watching some cheesy TV re-enactment of a supposed near-death experience, and the actor was dashing down a tunnel towards the light, and he turned to whomever was in the room with him and said, "What if she trips over her own feet? You know SOMEBODY does from time to time." He played around with that joke for awhile, and came up with the first chapter of Everlost, in which a head-on collision causes two kids to die at the same time, which in turn causes them to crash into each other inside the tunnel towards the light, which in turn bumps them into some sort of limbo instead. Then he put the chapter away for years, because he didn't know what he had to say about purgatory. Later, it came to him that his ghosts would only be able to connect to the real world through places that had been well loved, but no longer existed. Once he decided his ghosts would go to the Twin Towers, he was re-energized for the writing of the series.


A few smaller details stand out in my memory. When asked about his writing process, Shusterman said that he concentrates on his work best when he is not at home, so he spends a lot of time on writing retreats. Speaking as someone who can stay a lot more focused when I work on this blog at the library than when I work on it on my couch, I could totally empathize with this. He talked about the experience of co-writing with his sons, and his plan to co-write with his daughters as well. He gave us a bad news/good news tidbit: the movie version of Unwind fell through, but it's being picked up as a TV show, which given the scope of that series sounds much better to me anyway. Also, the movie deal for Scythe involves him as the screenwriter. There was more (why he almost didn't write the unwinding scene in Unwind, the science developments behind several of his plots, etc.), but I'll stop now. 

He was an excellent speaker, thoughtful and interesting. I've been thinking a lot in the past week about our idolization of authors, but I am very comfortable recommending you go see him if he speaks anywhere near you.

At the end, I waited patiently for my turn, brought up my huge stack of books, explained why I wanted him to sign for other people, and got to shake his hand. He'd just heard about the Cybils award and knew what I was talking about, which was helpful, since I wasn't super articulate in the moment. Since I'd forgotten my camera, I didn't take a picture, but here is how he signed our books. You can see that Instagram is not my thing.